The Flash has been an endless cycle of its lead character making mistakes, learning from them, and then promptly forgetting those lessons to make the same mistakes all over again. But last night’s episode might finally have been a new turning point for Barry that will change him for the better... if the show will let him.
Instead of being the Barry Allen Redemption Tour 2k17 (take two), at first “Mixed Signals” is much more interested in reminding you that the show wants to be light-hearted again, like it was before season three took a glum turn for everyone involved. As cute as it is—and this episode is full of cute moments, from Iris and Barry’s therapy sessions to Barry speed-binging Game of Thrones, the most potent of all Speedster powers—it’s almost too much of a tonal dash in the opposite direction. At times, it’s a breathless waving of the arms as everything practically screams “Look! Jokes!!!” at the audience in a way that almost feels like an overcompensation for the melodrama of the last season, despite being a ton of fun.
At any rate, it made for a delightfully silly hour of TV. Team Flash found themselves at odds with a computer-manipulating Metahuman named Kilg%re—which, turns out, is boringly pronounced “Kilgore”—who managed to get control of all the tech in Barry’s newly upgraded suit, wreaking havoc as he goes on a vengeful quest against his former startup partners. It’s the sort of goofiness The Flash should be reveling in, and it allows the show to fall back on one of its greatest assets: the adorkable charisma of Grant Gustin and the electric chemistry he has with Candice Patton and the rest of the cast.
But behind all the japes, Barry Allen is still Barry Allen, which is to say he can still be an insensitive jerk who plays the naive goofball card to get away from the consequences of his actions. During his wacky speedster skit in the opening of the episode, he tells Iris he’s already speed-sorted their wedding plans, without consulting her, and doesn’t realize how hurtful that is. He does the same when he cancels their training session together for a dinner. His unease with Iris being the leader of the team back at Star Labs now (not insidiously so, it’s just a situation he’s unused to, having been gone) eventually leads to him cockily ignoring her orders when Kilg%re hacks a car in an attempt to kill another one of his former partners, very nearly jeopardizing the mission.
Barry’s selfish inability to listen to other people has laid him low in the past, and when Iris, after a suggestion from Caitlin, puts forth the idea of couples therapy, it almost does again until he finally relents. The scenes (featuring the lovely Donna Pescow as the couple’s therapist) are a hoot, and give The Flash writers a chance to poke fun at some of the more absurd tropes of the series—like, say, the alarming amount of death both Barry and Iris have seen in their young lives—in a manner that’s endearingly playful while just about apologetic enough that it works.
The amazing effectiveness of these therapy sessions requires more suspension of disbelief than the fact that the show’s protagonist can run around at faster-than-light speeds. But they also seem to provide Barry the chance to grow and admit his mistakes. Iris and Barry confront each other over their feelings about his decision to run into the Speedforce at the end of last season, and because of that discussion, when Kilg%re strikes again and does the aforementioned hijacking of Barry’s souped-up Flash suit, Iris offers up a solution that requires Barry to trust her instincts instead of his own... and he listens to her, saving his life and saving the day.
Congratulations, Barry Allen! You took a small step toward becoming less of a selfish butt. Again. It’s a good first step, but given The Flash’s penchant for engaging in this constant cycle of growing and eroding Barry’s character, I’m not that optimistic that everything is hunky-dory when it comes to Barry Allen going forward, even if he is making more jokes lately. The Flash better have this moment of growth actually stick around for once.